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Suleiman the Magnificent Biography | Poet

Photo of Suleiman the Magnificent

Suleiman I (Suleyman I), the tenth ruler of the Ottoman Empire, held the throne from 1520 until his death in 1566, longer than any other Ottoman emperor. He is known as the Magnificent to the Western world and as the Lawgiver (Turkish Kanuni, derived from the Arabic القانوني) to his own countrymen. When he ruled, the golden age of Islam was long since past, with Europe having overtaken the Middle East as a major center of culture and several countries expanding their influence into the New World and elsewhere through colonization; however, his reign has been viewed by Turks as one of the greatest periods in their history.

Major Achievements

The Ottoman Empire expanded its borders greatly during the 1500s thanks to Suleiman, who led his armies northward into Hungary and stormed the walls of Vienna. Farther east, his armies invaded Persia and captured Tabriz, in the northwest, as well as Baghdad. His fleets dominated the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, with his sailors holding North Africa, conducting raids along the coasts of Italy, France and Spain, and capturing Rhodes from the Knights of St. John, who had held the island since 1309.

Hungary (1521)

The invasion of Hungary was one of Suleiman’s first battles; he used the mistreatment of the Turkish ambassador there as a pretext for his invasion. Belgrade, the modern capital of Serbia, was captured as a result.

Corfu (Corcyra; Modern Greek Kérkira), 1537

This was part of the four-year war between the empire and Venice; Suleiman failed to capture that strategic island.

Gran Esztergom (part of Hungary), 1543

That city had become part of Austria, but Suleiman captured it as well as three other cities — Siklós, Szeged and Székesfehérvár.

Nakhchivan, 1553-1555

Now part of Azerbaijan, Nakhchivan was at that time part of the Persian Safavid Empire, which lasted from 1501 to 1736. Suleiman’s 1553 war against the Safavid was to be the last of three in which he became embroiled. The Peace of Amasya, signed after the war, secured Suleiman’s gains, requiring him to return Tabriz but allowing him to hold onto other territories, including Baghdad and much of what is now southern Iraq and Iran.

For a map of how the Ottoman Empire expanded over the years, see


The parents of Suleiman sent him to Topkapı Palace in Constantinople (which is still standing; it has been designated as a UNESCO Heritage World Site, by the way). There, he learned about literature, history, theology, science and military tactics; the last was to prove invaluable to him during his reign. At school, Suleiman also became friends with the slave Pargalı Ibrahim Pasha, who became one of the emperor’s most trusted counselors. Pasha was executed in 1536 under mysterious circumstances.

Family and Life

The wife of Suleiman the Magnificent was Haseki Hürrem Sultan (those in the Western world know her by the name Roxelana), the daughter of a Ukrainian Orthodox priest. They married in 1531, and she died in 1558, six years before her husband. She bore him most of his sons, the eldest surviving of whom, Selim, inherited the Ottoman throne upon his father’s death (the firstborn, Mehmed, died shortly after his birth), and the influence that she had on Suleiman was to become the subject of legend.

Suleiman also had two other consorts — Gülfem Hatun, an Albanian bey’s daughter, and Mahidevran Sultan, daughter of the Circassian ruler Çerkes Haydar Bey — who both bore him children, although the former’s son died of smallpox at the age of two, as mentioned above.

Despite the loss of his first son, Suleiman had two of his subsequent sons killed himself. He ordered the death of his second son, Şehzade Mustafa Muhlisi, in 1553 when Grand Vizier Rüstem Pasha convinced the emperor that Mustafa — to whom he himself had made the offer to join the army — was coming to murder his father. Another son, Şehzade Bayezid, was executed by his brother Selim, along with all five of his sons; these executions had Suleiman’s support.

Suleiman’s only daughter, Mihrimah Sultan, served as queen mother to Selim until her death in 1578.

What Makes Him Significant?

The major achievement of Suleiman the Magnificent was making the Ottoman Empire a major power. Agriculture prospered under his rule, and he ordered the construction of such buildings as the Süleymaniye Masjid, where he and Hürrem are buried. 

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